Next Line, Please

The Heretics

By David Lehman | February 28, 2017


Word golf has always been a reliable way to produce inspiration. This alternative to rhyme—in which the end-words spell out a progression from, say, “kiss” to “love,” moving one letter at a time—combines the pleasures of game-playing with the value of a constrictive form. I am not surprised that the game generated so much creative energy this week.

Possibly the most popular entry was Angela Ball’s “Happy Accidents” (the title an afterthought suggested by Paul Michelsen):

My first response was fear—of a kiss
on the cheek, quick enough to miss.
I was half interested, half in a mist.
But here was a man who fit my list
of likes, blue-eyed and mature, who had lost
no curiosity, no nerve, who wouldn’t lose
faith that I’d defrost. Now our big boss is love.


On MQ’s journey from “fuck” to “love” the last line flips the terms of line one:

The difference between love and fuck
Depends the most on fate and luck;
One’s the door, and one the lock.

You may meet many fit to lick
(Find the clit, avoid the lice),
But fewer those with whom to live

The distance between fuck and love.


“February in Barcelona,” a late entry from Christine Rhein, caught my eye with its attention to exclamatory detail:


Palm trees. Parrots. Gaudí’s mosaic uproar! A Miró, wide-eyed head!
Children and their parents playing soccer by the sea. My chance to heal
gray thoughts of home, this winter’s stinging news. To somehow seal
each sip of cocoa, Cava, orange-rich sangria to my tongue. Easy sell:
Salud! Salud! But after the parade: litter. Overflow of trash. The tell-
ing reach—a woman digging deep into the bins. A dog standing tall,
tired at her side. Heaving rib cage. Muddy coat. Sunlit, fight-worn tail.


Honorable mention: Byron for his sprightly and seemingly spontaneous lines:

Let us make a portrait of a lady.
The movie will star Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd.
The trial balloon burst, the heroine was killed by a lad
wielding a lead
pipe but a new heroine took the lead
and she could eat no lean.
The movie was directed by David Lean.
Of faith he took a leap.
Of what he sowed he did not reap.
The result was real


Of my own efforts I admit to a fondness for “Idiot’s Tale”:

When you’re shooting well, you’re unconscious, you’re sick.
No thoughts distract you, your touch is as the silk
of your rich sister’s scarf. Now don’t go sulk.
The key to our business is buying in bulk.
Don’t walk the batter. Don’t risk a balk.
Look who’s talking on the commercial-free talk
show you mocked before the idiot’s tale
turned out to be true. But, then, no tale was as tall
as the epic poems that minstrels used to tell.
If anyone asks, just say: well, well, well.

Let me conclude by praising couplets selected from other worthy entries:

S. M.’s “each carom off the darkening wall / a damp, decaying wail”;

Paul Michelsen’s “knees bare /Wooden floors, words launched,” which made me think of “bare ruined choirs” of Shakespeare’s sonnet #73;

Ricky Ray’s “The cult of self / was an easy sell”;

Michael C. Rush’s “that weedy brackish mire / that no one can deny is mine”;

Elizabeth Solzburg’s “had you asked, I would say / that I would never forget the promise of blue in that morning’s sky.”


Last week Diana Ferraro wondered whether it would be a “heresy” to admit that she preferred some of “our” couplets to the one Wordsworth composed for “My Hearts Leaps Up.” Although it was not her intent, I’d like to use “Heresy” as our prompt for next week. I believe that many notes filed under that heading have a head start toward tapping the imagination. So … see what happens when you write a brief poem using “Heresy” as your title. If you would like to make things a bit more complicated, why not appropriate the style of either Emily Dickinson or Wallace Stevens, two notable heretics (though this option is strictly optional)?

We need to have closer deadlines henceforth, so please send in your entries by midnight on Saturday, March 4th. As always, my appreciation to all for sharing the inspiration.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

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